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Consistency matters. No establishment is perfect, but a consistent, steady pattern of reviews that are generally positive usually paints a realistic picture you can believe. Look at the history of an establishment’s online reviews. Of course, you will find negative comments about any hotel, resort, or vacation destination. However, if the positive comments that seem to be legitimate tend to outweigh the negative, you may have found a dependable establishment worth trying.

Excessive details/enthusiasm. Most travelers who want to share their positive opinions of an establishment will provide their observations and accolades in a general, natural manner. Their reviews will not be bogged down with very specific details, such as mentioning the brand name of the hot tub in their room. In addition, most legitimate reviews do not include an overabundance of superlatives that seem excessive. Be wary if you see a ridiculous number of words like amazing, extraordinary, outstanding, etc. Online reviews with content that sounds a lot like a travel brochure are often the equivalent of paid advertising.

Questionable sources.  Check out the history of any travel reviewer. See if the person has posted reviews of other establishments. If the reviewer has made numerous positive reviews about various establishments that all sound very similar and use almost identical words and phrases, it is possible the person is a professional reviewer – which means he/she is paid to write reviews.

Even if the user names are not the same, always be leery of reviews that sound suspiciously alike in tone and wording. It is possible and fairly easy for one person to write several reviews using different user names. Also be wary if you find that one particular reviewer has a habit of making negative comments about establishments. That person may be a paid reviewer assigned the goal of badmouthing and discrediting certain establishments.

Should You Trust That Online Travel Review?

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All spikes are suspect. Beware of a sudden increase in positive reviews that pop up over a short period of time and seem to contradict a previous pattern of less complimentary comments. Unless the establishment is under new management or has undergone significant renovations, it would be quite unusual for there to be a sudden surge of happy patrons taking the time to write glowing reviews. Likewise, if you notice an abrupt downward spiral of negative reviews, it could mean something has recently affected the quality of the establishment and it may be a good idea to investigate further. 

Too many “first-timers.” The positive reviews you find posted about one establishment should come from a variety of visitors with varying levels of experience as a reviewer. They should not all come from first-time reviewers. No doubt, there are credible reviewers who visit a vacation spot and love it so much they want to share their opinions online for the first time. However, the odds are pretty low that a large number of people who have never posted travel reviews before will all make the same decision to write a glowing review for the very first time about the very same establishment. 

Tips for Detecting "Fake" Online Travel Reviews

Making travel plans has become much easier thanks to the many online travel sites that offer reviews by “real” people. Learning about someone else’s experiences at a resort, hotel, or vacation destination can be very helpful. Many travelers enjoy sharing the positives or negatives about their vacations. Unfortunately, some online travel reviews may not be honest opinions posted by well-meaning visitors to the site.

In some instances, positive reviews are actually written by people associated with the establishment being reviewed and posted in an attempt to boost business. Negative reviews are sometimes written by a competitor of the establishment being reviewed and posted to keep travelers away.

So… how do you know which online reviews are shams and which can be trusted? The best way to use online travel reviews to help you make your vacation plans is by reading multiple reviews from a few reliable travel websites. Never depend on what you learn from just one or two reviews on a single site. The more reviews you read, the more likely it is you will get an honest, trustworthy overview of a hotel, resort, cruise line, or destination.

If an establishment you are researching has a few bad reviews here and there, it does not mean you should stay clear. It would be quite rare for a hotel, resort, or destination to have only glowing reviews. There are sure to be a handful of patrons who are unhappy with something.

Some hotels, resorts, cruise lines, and vacation destinations make a habit of posting an official response to negative online reviews whenever possible, which can tell you a lot about their management philosophies and practices. When an establishment’s management takes the time to consistently respond to negative reviews, it is very likely they are serious about customer satisfaction.

You may find the following observations helpful in identifying reliable online travel reviews.